Khadine gives the student perspective and offers various tips to first year students on developing academic writing skills.
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Helen Drury from the Learning Centre gives advice on the challenges of and support available for academic writing skills.
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There are many elements that contribute to the success of academic writing. These range from students allowing themselves enough time to do the planning, researching, reading, critical thinking and writing to understanding the question and structuring the essay (or report, case study, reflection) into a coherent piece of analytical work that adequately answers the question.
There are different genres of academic writing that are often related to the discipline that is being studied. One of the best ways to understand the genre that should be modelled is for students to refer to the academic papers that are being read in the subject being studied and to ask their lecturer or tutor for clarification. In the Sydney School of Education and Social Work students will find that they will do a variety of tasks including writing essays, case studies, reports, and reflective writing.
Academic writing is very formal in style and uses a formal vocabulary. The formal structure that should be used helps to ensure that an academic argument is being supported. The better students become at structuring their work the better they become at giving a coherent academic argument.
Academic writing is a complex task and it is the mode in which many assessments will be judged and marked. The University's Learning Centre runs courses and provides resources on academic writing. There are also a number of online sites that students can use relevant to their area of study. These are all highly recommended for students to explore and they have been listed in the resources below.
Referencing and Avoiding Plagiarism
Referencing and academic honesty is an important element of academic work. In essence, this means that through a formal system of referencing, students acknowledge the sources of the ideas and research that they are using in their work. The reason that referencing is done is because creating new knowledge is a process of building on the work of others. Referencing and acknowledging the sources of the ideas that are used is therefore considered to be ethical conduct and to show academic integrity and honesty. Because of this, students are required to comply to this principle. The University has a policy on academic dishonesty and plagiarism and this outlines the process and penalties that are incurred. However, there is also support to learn more about this via the resources listed below. In the Sydney School of Education and Social Work the system of referencing used is called APA (American Psychological Association) referencing. However, you may find that other disciplines will use other referencing systems.
The following is a summary of some of the strategies to consider in successful academic writing:
- Use planning strategies. such as those in the Time Management section, to begin the process early and to plot the tasks that need to be done.
- Analyse the question – identify key words such as task, content and limiting words - to help break the question down in order to understand what is required.
- Before undertaking extensive reading do some preliminary work around how to answer the question based on pre-existing knowledge and the reading that has been done in the course – this will give some shape to the essay and indicate where to go with the research. It also helps to establish a preliminary position on the question.
- Be strategic about the reading – start with the course reading list and use this as a basis to explore other readings that may be relevant. Use bibliographies found in readings to identify other relevant academic papers.
- Begin writing the first draft early
- Be systematic in notes and drafts about where the ideas have come from to avoid plagiarism and to make reference checking in the final draft easy.
- If possible leave some space between the penultimate and final draft. The distance can help give clarity to the final edit.
- Undertake a course on using Endnote with the library as using this program can help with the organisation of your references.
- Schedule enough time to do a final edit and the reference list. Do not leave this until the last minute.
Resources at Sydney
- University of Sydney – Clearer Writing – online module to improve the clarity of your writing, with a particular focus on well-structured and coherent paragraphs. (Retrieved Mar 2011)
- University of Sydney – WriteSite – online module to develop academic and professional writing skills. (Retrieved Mar 2011)
- University of Sydney – WRiSE – online module to help you develop and improve your report writing skills in science and engineering. (Retrieved Mar 2012)
- University of Sydney – Learning Centre – Learning resources – with pdfs on Essay Writing and Referencing (retrieved Mar 2012)
- University of Sydney – Learning Centre – Course information (retrieved Mar 2012)
- University of Sydney – Student Affairs Unit – Plagiarism (retrieved Mar 2012)
- University of Sydney – Library – Research and information skills resources including on referencing.
University of Sydney – Library – Endnote. (Retrieved Mar 2011)
- University of Sydney – Sydney School of Education and Social Work – Little Blue Book (pdf) – contains a quick guide to APA referencing.
- University of Sydney – Faculty of Arts – Writing Hub (Retrevied Mar 2012)
- The WRIT program – offers students enhanced abilities and increased confidence in cross-cultural communication, critical thinking, writing, and argumentation. (Retrieved Mar 2014)
- Purdue University OWL – offers over 200 free resources. look under non-Purdue instructors and students for relevant information. (Retrieved Feb 2011)
- UNSW – Learning Centre – Essay and Assignment Writing
- Monash University – Learning Support – Writing (Retrieved Feb 2011)
- Monash University – Learning Support – Reading (Retrieved Feb 2011)
- Monash University – Learning Support – approaches to essay writing at university level (Retrieved Feb 2011)